Open letter to Pope Francis: “I cannot recollect if any Holy Father has been as blunt as Your Holiness”

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Your holiness, most probably, weighed down with important affairs, you will never have time to read this letter. However, let me seize this opportunity to get off my chest what I have long wanted to say. But first, let me extend to you a warm welcome and I hope you will find our country as “extraordinaire” as Pope John Paul II did.

Before getting into the heart of the matter, let me just say some- thing evident: we are living in an era in no way comparable to any other in the world history. Yes, everything is global, nothing can be hidden. What every leader says or does is instantly relayed all over the globe, and popes, like all leaders, do make many declarations. But I cannot recollect if any pope has been as blunt as Your Holiness, and I could not but prick up my ears when you said that some top clerics “possess a heart of stone and a stiff neck” (22 Dec 2014).

Well, although this is not something new, you have been the first pope to say so, and it cannot be bad to remind some “princes of the Church” that they, too, are not that immune from a host of maladies (arrogance, intolerance, myopia, pettiness, etc…) and should these go unchecked, the Church itself might be enfeebled. However, I could not exactly follow when you described the sexual abuse scandal engulfing the Church as “the work of the devil”. Does this mean that man is no longer in control of himself and that he may well be influenced by wicked external forces?

What about other evils happening in the world? (Here, what comes to mind are the ‘export’ of nuclear waste to poorer countries, the cloning of human beings, the rising of Nationalism, unfair trade deals, mass shootings in the USA, hunger in the Third World, irresponsible consumerism…) Can these also be attributed to Satan or (for those who believe that “the end of the world is nigh”) to the “Beast” of the Revelation of St John? I do not question Your Holiness infallibility and I can only hope that the allusion to the devil is just metaphorical, because I simply cannot believe in the existence of “evil” forces prowling about. I am more inclined to believe in our freedom to choose between right and wrong.

Concerning those priests who want to get married, I cannot exactly follow their argument. Well, if you want to get married, then don’t be a priest! I have no right to contest the celibacy of priests – as prescribed by the Catholic Church –, though I may not agree with it. You see, if I want to wear a turban, I won’t go to those countries that prevent me from wearing a turban rather than go there and protest that I have a right to wear a turban! And concerning the right for women to become priests, once more I do not question the Church’s standpoint although I try to understand it. Is it because when God decided to get embodied as a human being in Palestine, it was more fashionable to do so in the body of a man – or else the figure would have carried less authority? Suppose instead, Christ had been incarnated in a society where prophetesses (in lieu of prophets) enjoyed much popularity, could he have taken the female form? If so, does this mean that men would have been barred from priesthood?

The next thing that should worry us all is the ever widening gap between rich and poor. To put it bluntly, many economies are fast spinning out of control and are leading towards greater wealth for fewer and greater poverty for more. And in many catholic countries (like those in Latin America), it looks as if that the Church is inextricably tied to the established order. The Church gets handsome subsidies from the State while a sizeable portion of Christians live in a precarious condition. Shouldn’t steps be taken so that government financial support gets steadily replaced by contributions from parishioners? Or perhaps should there be more worker-priests? For, there is little doubt that if the Church is financially independent, its denunciation of injustice can only carry more clout.

Well, it is certainly soothing to hear from the pulpit those words: “Blessed are you poor!” (Luke 6:20 -26), but one has this feeling that poverty is being idealized. Elsewhere in the Bible, de- privation of the basic needs (for a decent life) is condemned because it degrades man and offends God. (Is 10:2; Amos 2: 6-7). What did Christ exactly mean by poverty? Is it not rather a kind of solidarity – akin to an expression of love – that makes us one with those who are struggling to get their most elementary rights? Do we need more priests like Father Laval, who, had he lived in our present era, might well have been branded as a “Marxist”? Can one be an authentic Christian unless one acts?

Sometimes one gets this impression (I hope a wrong one!) that all this preaching in Church is just a show. Being true to the gospel must forcibly lead to action or else parishioners will simply cease to believe what is said during Eucharistic homilies. For example, how can you tell the relatives of an underprivileged old lady (who never missed mass on Sundays) that no priests will be available for her funeral ceremony, when immediately after, that of a well-to-do per- son is celebrated with all the glint and pomp by several priests and perhaps even the Bishop?

Anyway, Your Holiness cannot be held accountable for everything that takes place in His Church. You have already set the good example by living not at the papal apartment but at the more modest Casa Santa Maria and you not only bless people but also ask for their prayers. There can be no doubt then that your simplicity will be acknowledged by enthusiastic crowds during your rather too short a stay here and I do hope to catch a glimpse of you – even if it is from afar.

Very respectfully, J. L. D


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